Still life

At 6pm (sharp, on the dot, prompt) I turn on a little clock radio that is pre-tuned to the BBC World Service and start cooking. The scheduling changes every so often but for the last few months my ritualistic vegetable-chopping has coincided with a show (World Have Your Say) in which people from all over the world call in to discuss whatever happens to be the topical dish of the day. The presenters can be a bit shameless in the way they milk tragedy to make the airwaves quiver and crackle with emotion but they also sound semi-sincere in their news-cycle excitement, as if they genuinely care about the plight of Syrian refugees washing up in Europe, or how Muslim women feel living behind a veil. But, apart from the occasional interesting local insight or observation, the show mainly consists of people speaking in binary code.

I take the vegetables from the fridge, a combination of either broccoli, onion, leek, aubergine, courgette, red pepper, pumpkin, chick peas, carrot, baby spinach, and mushrooms, and chop them with a small, black-handled serrated knife. I love my vegetables, my veggies, my Vs: their rich, earthy juices pool into an exciting wet patch in the middle of the chopping board (ingrained with a vestige of their collective smell from over the years). I cook them as lightly as possible and mix them with, variously, couscous, pasta, rice, buckwheat, lentils. I add avocado and feta cheese most days so the texture better melds together. A splash of this, a sprinkle of that, and Bob’s your uncle (true), and Trump’s the president (also true). Then I go and do The Guardian quick crossword at my desk because it helps me to eat more slowly.

The almost hour-long process of cooking, eating and enjoying a post-prandial coffee/cigarette is usually the highlight of my day. Throughout the daytime I am nervous, restless, haunted by my hyper-consciousness of how wrong things are. The world often seems sickly to me, while my language feels bogged down in some sticky, mushy, inchoate matter. Everything speaks with forked tongues, everyone looks like they should be someone else. My vegetable/crossword/coffee love-in liberates me from this exhausting state of (current) affairs. My tension dissipates into the soft light of the artificially illuminated night. Everything, for now, will fleetingly be alright (bless you HBO, Showtime, AMC, Netflix et al).

The clock radio through which I listen to the BBC World Service is probably the best thing I’ve bought this year in terms of the pleasure it gives me. I frequently talk back to it while I’m chopping vegetables. Sometimes I mumble disapprovingly. Sometimes I despairingly hold my head in my hands. Sometimes I flat out tell it go to fuck itself. When it talks to me about Trump or giraffes being threatened with extinction, I furiously wave my black-handled chopping knife at it. My radio: a sleek little plastic box that broadcasts a skewed (if well-meaning) interpretation of world events into a tiny, unheated, one could say rustic kitchen in a hidden corner of Vilnius. 15 euros? Yes please.

I mention this because Christmas is coming and with it your civic duty to spend as much money as possible in a (well-planned) orgy of consumption. Countless acres of forest will be felled to wrap millions of token gifts that will quickly make their way to landfill. There should be a law enacted to limit us to giving one present each to adults and two presents to children. I will never forget the disgust I felt when I went to my brother’s house one Christmas morning and saw the sprawling heap of plastic toys lying unwrapped on the living room floor. Within a few weeks they were unused and unwanted; a dead pile of spent pleasure. I recently asked a wealthy Lithuanian man what he bought his two teenage children for the previous Christmas. An Apple Watch apiece, he said. Lordy, I replied with characteristic disbelief. He explained that his kids already have everything; it was the only thing he could think of.

I am grateful, at least, that the luxury of my suffering is inexpensive to maintain. It doesn’t ask to go on holiday or to get the latest gadget. It walks everywhere (where possible) and refuses to buy overpriced things (where occasionally possible). My one extravagance is food but only at weekends. I spend a small fortune on alcohol but console myself that I am at least contributing to the health of the Lithuanian economy. About once a month, however, I feel a mysterious urge to splurge (it manifests as a vaguely sexual throbbing mingled with abstract longing). To relieve myself of it, I usually buy J a present or take her out for a meal. The coming Christmas will be a blizzard of splurging, a whiteout of sated urges.

(I went to make some toast and jam just now and noticed my elderly neighbour is already shovelling the snow out front. She is such a woman of action she puts me to shame; she shovels the snow as fast as it falls. I switched on the radio: Saudi dumb bombs in Yemen. New words keep coming thick and fast.)

It will be many hours (9hrs and 16mins) until I can seize my black-handled serrated chopping knife and get down to some real work. Incidentally, I bought the knife back in 1995 in a kitchenware store on Camden High Street. B was astonished to see that I still had it on her first trip to Vilnius. “You do love your things, don’t you?” she said. It is true; I do love my things. They know their place. They exist friendlily. Best of all, I detect a faint throb of life in them.



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